Ajnala (Punjab), March 2 :
Scores of volunteers are engaged in digging a well inside the campus of a gurdwara here to take out the remains of 282 martyrs who laid down their lives in the First War of Independence in 1857.
Ajnala is 30 km from Amritsar.
Be it members of the gurdwara committee, non-governmental organisation people or even school children — all are involved in the digging, which commenced Friday. It was preceded by Sikh, Hindu and Muslim prayers.
Till now, remains of over 100 martyrs have been taken out. These include skulls, bones and jaws.
“These were our freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives during the First War of Independence in 1857. The British authorities pushed them into the well here and let them die,” said Amarjit Singh Sarkaria, president of Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj.
The gurdwara came up at the site as a tribute to the martyrs. The well, which was earlier called “kalian wala khu” (well of the blacks), is now referred to as the “shaheedan wala khu” (well of the martyrs).
The martyrs were troops comprising Indians from the 26th Bengal Native Infantry posted at Mian Mir cantonment near Lahore who were marching towards Ajnala after hearing reports of the mutiny in Meerut and other places.
These soldiers, numbering about 500, had dared to challenge the British Empire by killing two British officers near Lahore.
The then British deputy commissioner of Amritsar, Fredrick Cooper, ordered action against the troops. While many were killed, 282 were captured and brought to Ajnala. Here, they were thrown into the well and a 10-foot layer of soil was put on them.
“We will excavate the well and take out the remains of the martyrs. We will perform their last rites with the respect and honour that they deserve,” Sarkaria said.
Historian Surinder Kochhar said it was an emotional moment for people in Ajnala town when the skulls and bones were taken out.
Residents and gurdwara committee members, however, rued that the government never bothered about the sacrifice by the martyrs for 157 years.